The public information officer of the U.S. Attorney’s office in Los Angeles has now confirmed at least part of the “new evidence” that resulted in the United States’ dismissal of the 2013 Mountain Fire lawsuit against Dr. Tarek M. Al-Shawaf and his Mountain Center property caretakers, the Nowlins.
“The new evidence does include statements from the United States Forest Service (USFS) first responders [firefighters],” wrote Thom Mrozek, public information officer of the U.S. Attorney’s office, in a recent email to the Town Crier.
“I based this on the L.A. Times story, which appeared to be an accurate portrayal,” said Mrozek, who did not divulge when the U.S. Attorney’s office first learned of this new eye-witness account from the two USFS first-responding firefighters.
According to the Los Angeles Times story, Lawrence Goda told the Los Angeles Times that the two USFS firefighters indicated to him that the ignition point of the blaze was not on Al-Shawaf’s property. But after reading the Los Angeles Times story, Goda assured the Town Crier that the firefighters did not tell him that the fire started off Al-Shawaf’s property. He also said he did not tell the Los Angeles Times that, either.
Goda said the two USFS firefighters told him only that the ignition point was hundreds of feet away from the junction box, which is what he told the Los Angeles Times, he said.
However, by saying that the Los Angeles Times story appeared to be accurate to him, Mrozek was seemingly confirming that the statement by the two USFS firefighters, as made to the U.S. Attorney’s office own investigators, was that the fire started off Al-Shawaf’s property. The Town Crier wrote back to Mrozek and inquired about this, asking if Mrozek could confirm that version directly.
Mrozek replied quickly saying, “I’m trying to run down an attorney to confirm my recollection … which coincides with what Goda told you. I didn’t realize the Times reported that witnesses said the fire started off the property.”
The Town Crier continues to await further explanation from Mrozek, once he contacts an attorney who can confirm, or not confirm, Mrozek’s recollection regarding the two USFS firefighters’ statements.
Either way, the two USFS firefighters’ statements are important because they appear to contradict the conclusion of Cal Fire investigators that the fire started as a result of a faulty electrical junction box on Al-Shawaf’s Mountain Center property.
Attorney Jim Lance, Al-Shawaf’s defense counsel, met Goda in February for breakfast at the Mission Inn in Riverside and learned then and there of the two USFS firefighters’ statements from Goda himself. Lance almost certainly would have brought the firefighters’ statements to the attention of the U.S. Attorney. Thereafter, perhaps realizing that the two USFS firefighters’ statements cast doubt on Cal Fire’s investigative report, the U.S. Attorneys decided to drop the lawsuit against Al-Shawaf and the Nowlins.
There still is no indication as to when the U.S. Attorney’s office first learned of the two USFS Firefighters’ statements. Was it when Lance gave them this information earlier this year or did U.S. Attorney’s investigators really learn this information a year ago around the same time as Goda?
The Town Crier will press for and report on further information from the U.S. Attorney’s office regarding this matter. The question still remains: What started the 2013 Mountain Fire?